With the second game of the NFL International series between the New York Giants and LA Rams set to kick off at Twickenham this afternoon, here are some of the main talking points that emerged in the week leading up to the encounter.
- Josh Brown
Questions surrounding the current position of New York Giants kicker Josh Brown dominated the team’s press conferences on Friday.
Brown, who has been playing in the NFL since 2003, has had his professional future cast in doubt after recent evidence emerged to give support to accusations of domestic violence made against him by the kicker’s ex-wife.
Giant’s Head Coach Ben McAdoo was clearly reluctant to answer questions on the immediate future of the 37 year-old when he addressed the press at Syon House in South West London on Thursday, making clear that he didn’t want to rush into making any decisions on the issue.
He said: “It was a tough conversation – we’re trying to get as much information as we can so have all the facts to make the best decision for this organisation”
However, with Brown failing to make the trip to London, the 39 year old confirmed that the former Pro-Bowler would be replaced by former Chicago Bears kicker Robbie Gould for his team’s encounter with the Rams at Twickenham.
- Odell Beckham Jr
As one of the brightest stars in the game, as well as one of the most controversial, there was little doubt that Odell Beckham Jr would be grabbing a lot of the headlines ahead of his first match in Britain.
Whether it is through unbelievable catches, well-publicised confrontations with opposition players or, most recently, a love/hate relationship with a kicking net, “OBJ” is never far from the spotlight.
Things have been no different in the build-up to Sunday’s International Series Game, with the 23 year-old’s press conference on Friday attracting both the biggest crowd, and the most questions, of the week.
As the focus of the Giants’ offence, even Beckham himself has recognised the amount of scrutiny and attention he is constantly faced with, as well as its possible dangers.
He said: “No matter what I do, there is going to be extra attention – I just try to do my best not to be a distraction to my team.”
In spite of the numerous controversies that surround him, Beckham attracted substantial praise from LA Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher earlier this week, who voiced his belief that the receiver could be one of the greatest players of all time
Fisher said “He has a chance to go down as one of the all-time best if he stays healthy – He’s really special and we have a lot for respect for him”.
- Todd Gurley
The form of LA Running Back Todd Gurley has been a huge talking point for both team’s this week, with him being recognised as a player who could determine the outcome of Sunday’s game.
Although he is still heralded as the Rams’ key offensive threat, the second year player has so far struggled to replicate the form which saw him named “Rookie of the Year” at the end of last season.
However, though he has recently been overshadowed by recent standout performances from Case Keenum and the LA receivers, Gurley has still been heralded by opposition linebacker Jonathan Casillas as one of the Rams most potent offensive threats.
Speaking on Friday, Casillas said: “We have to keep our eye on him [Gurley] as he is a terrific running back”
“We have to make sure that we get numbers to the ball, and all eyes have to be in the right place at the right time – We have to work as a team”
Meanwhile, recent improvements from Gurley on the field have left Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher feeling certain that he will soon be back to his best.
Speaking at Pennyhill Park on Thursday, Fisher said, “The big game is coming – He [Gurley] is in great shape right now, he feels good and he is patient – that’s the important thing”
Gurley will be hoping that he can continue to improve by putting in a good performance against a strong Giants defensive line.
- The Defences
A lot has been made about both teams’ defences in the build up to Sunday’s game. With the Rams possessing a running threat in the form of Todd Gurley and the Giants an aerial one in Odell Beckham Jr, both sides will be hoping that their respective defensive units can put in a good display.
There has been a particular focus on both the Rams and the Giants Defensive Lines, with both possessing standout players.
The D-Line is widely regarded as the Rams’ best unit, spearheaded by star defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who received significant praise from both his fellow players and his Head Coach in the build up to his first appearance at Twickenham.
Giant Quarterback Eli Manning highlighted the importance of keeping Donald in check, stating: “Aaron Donald is a heck of a player, so we have to know where he is and the guys up front need to be prepared.”
Speaking about the two-time Pro-bowler on Thursday, Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher said, “As coaches you have to be careful about praising your own players, but he’s really good – really good”
“He’s very disruptive – The sack numbers aren’t really there but the pressures, the hits, the disruptions, the tackles for losses, are all there – He’s special”
Furthermore, the Rams Defensive line received yet another boost this week, with Robert Quinn returning to full practice, and Fisher voicing his hopes that he would be active for Sunday’s game.
In addition to praising his own players, Fisher also confirmed that he has been increasing impressed by the Giants defence, and especially their defensive backs.
He said: “They’re playing really good on defence – Their secondary is playing really well together and isn’t giving up a lot of points”
During his press conference on Thursday, Fisher spoke very highly of Giants Cornerback Janoris Jenkins and Safety Landon Collins.
On Cornerback Jenkins Fisher said, “I have a great respect for some of the top corners in the league, but you would be hard-pressed to find someone playing better than him right now”
- Twickenham and an UK-based franchise
The increasing popularity of American Football in the UK, and the growth of the International Series has meant that the subject of a potential UK-based NFL franchise is never far from discussion.
The fact that Sunday’s game will be the first to be held at Twickenham, the home of English rugby, represents yet another huge leap for the sport within Britain and shows just how far it has come.
This sentiment was reflected by Odell Beckham Jr who said, “As a five year-old, I never thought that I would be playing in London.”
In recent years, the annual arrival of the NFL to British shores has been met with great excitement, not only by British fans, but also by the players themselves
Speaking on his excitement to play in front of British fans, OBJ said, “I can’t wait to get there [Twickenham] and to see the atmosphere, to see the stadium – it’s kind of like a dream come true”
“I’m expecting a lot of cheers from everyone”, he added, “I’m hoping it will be like when you play Fifa will the volume turned all the way up”
Furthermore, many Rams and Giants players looking to immerse themselves in British, and especially rugby, culture. Rams Punter Jonny Hecker could be seen playing with a rugby ball at Pennyhill Park on Thursday while Giants receiver Victor Cruz spoke of his past experiences with the sport.
However, though the sport continues to grow in the UK, Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas voiced his belief that a UK-based Franchise is still a long way off.
He said: “I would like it, but they would have to travel and be away from here and that would be tough – It would be really tough for any team to come from another country”.